So are there too many Asians in Silicon Valley? According to Steve Bannon the answer is a definite yes. But the question in general begs two further questions: 1. How many Asians are there is Silicon Valley, and 2. Why would it even matter?
To begin with, we want to break it down into two important statistics. The first is how many Asians are working and living in Silicon Valley, and the second, to provide an extra layer of insight, is how many are in positions of leadership. This exploration in not to neglect the ongoing issues surrounding women and U.S. born minorities in tech, a dissertation of its own, but to simply deal with these dangerous statements by Donald Trump’s Chief Strategist, who claims that the majority of Silicon Valley CEOs are Asian and implying that that is a tragedy of sorts.
Focusing on Silicon Valley itself as a sample of tech industry, likely the same logic that Bannon employed, it is a basic fact that Asians represent a large portion of the living and working population, surpassing all groups, including narrowly edging out whites in Santa Clara County in 2015, 35.6% to 32.8%. This is actually an astounding number in light of their nationwide presence being at 4.7%.
So how does this factor into the local hi-tech workforce? 2015 statistics released by some of the biggest names in tech also point to healthy Asian representation among their ranks. Facebook reported that 34% of their workforce is Asian, followed by Twitter at 33%, and both Google and Intel at 31%. Microsoft comes in just slightly lower at 29% but these numbers do mean that the bulk of these residents, as cited above, are employed in the industry. Interestingly, Apple’s workforce is only 16% Asian and is, in fact, more diverse overall than the other companies mentioned here. However, in regards to Bannon’s statements, Vanity Fair cites a 2015 study that Asians account for only 19% of managers and only 14% of executives in Silicon Valley.
These numbers do demonstrate that Asian immigrants and/or their children are experiencing success in Silicon Valley that is exceptional when compared to their overall representation in the U.S. But it also points out that once in the industry, climbing the ladder appears to present some difficulty. And certainly they do not comprise the “two-thirds to three-quarters of CEOs” as claimed by Bannon. In fact, the executive statistics support the idea that there is still a bias for them to overcome.
But, still, noting the strong presence in this region and industry we can still address Bannon’s factually flawed theory with “so what?”. In fact, it’s not as if Asians are experiencing success in Silicon Valley, as if it was something being handed out by benevolent white America. Rather, one can make a much stronger argument that the success Silicon Valley is experiencing is actually because of diversity and immigrants.
Diversity is not only arguably good for society; it seems to be very certainly good for Silicon Valley. And diversity in leadership creates opportunities for more voices to be heard, as opposed to an echo chamber that is out of step with the local or global economy. Harvard Business Review found that companies where there was diversity were nearly 3.5 times as likely to have full employee contribution and twice as likely to “unleash value-driving insights”.
Quantifying what many know simply from personal experience, Harvard’s in-depth study reported that companies with what they call 2-D diversity are “45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market”.
A 2015 study by two professors with Northwestern University went further in depth on the issue of diverse versus homogeneous and found that specifically in companies and institutions looking to achieve innovation. The sort of [racist] homogeneity that Bannon and his ilk desire may arguably benefit in a non-innovative team situation where the goal is to simply continue on a path with as little friction as possible in pre-established institutions and teams. However, citing previous studies on the matter they say it succinctly: “Homogeneous societies with a strong culture often find it more difficult to break out of inefficient equilibria than more diverse, open-minded societies. Likewise, organizations that foster an open, adaptive atmosphere are less likely to become mired in ineffective practices.”
Silicon Valley doesn’t need less diversity to succeed, it needs more. And specifically, Mr. Bannon & Co, it needs to include them at the top as well as the bottom of the corporate ladder. If we want to make America great again we have to remember and build on what made it great to begin with, the fact that it was a place where brave immigrants from all over the world felt they could pioneer a new future.
It’s time to take this reality into the 21st century and bring in the full chorus of voices to tap the real potential of America. May Silicon Valley really be led by “two-thirds to three-fourths” of diverse CEOs bringing their unique experiences as immigrants or as underrepresented native minorities (African-American, Women, Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ…the list goes on and on because that is America, thank goodness). Silicon Valley is a kind of bubble that can reflect the best of America’s diversity and innovation and it should be embraced and encouraged, not turned into Bannon’s vision, which would have with all the vigour and innovation of the extremely homogeneous North Korean football team.